Recently a debate in America has been sparked over the rules and principles of net neutrality.
The law which has been in place since 2015 was put into effect by the Obama Administration when the Democrats controlled the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Rules of net neutrality classify high speed internet as a public utility, its main purpose is to ensure everyone who uses the internet, regardless of their internet service provider (ISP), have the same accessibility to all online content.
If you download something from the internet the contents which it arrives in comes in the form of data packets, net neutrality ensures these packages arrive to you at the same speed. This practice is also applied for streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.
It is the job of the FCC to make sure these rules and ethics are being followed.
However broadband services like AT&T and Comcast, who are two of the biggest ISP providers in the United States, are opposed to the idea and laws of net neutrality put in place by Barack Obama’s administration.
They argue these utility regulations represent an excessive involvement from government, it reduces the drive to invest in competing ISP’s and a motivation to improve broadband services. Broadband and Telecommunication companies have argued by over-stepping, or ultimately getting rid of net neutrality laws, it will lead to a better US economy.
Some economic experts are in support of these disgruntled ISPs – to have the freedom to charge different tariffs for different services is vital for ensuring a healthy market. ‘Price discrimination’ can fuel the desire for innovation and efficiency.
For a more simplified metaphor; it’s like Nike, Adidas and Puma – they all compete in the sportswear market, but if trading standards came in and said ‘you need to use the same materials, colour scheme and provide an equal amount of service for your product as your competitors, and at a reasonable price’. It eliminates the need for innovation and competition.
However the issue with getting rid of net neutrality laws is it could potentially head towards a situation where it becomes ‘pay-to-play’ technology. Technology and business analysts foresee it splitting into two-tiers; one with advanced internet speed and one with moderate (average) internet speed.
This theorised two-tier system implies those with an affordable income will occupy those high speed internet lanes, we’re talking about companies such as; Google, Amazon, eBay, Netflix and Facebook and households with vast (and what we can assume) disposable incomes. In that sense the net will become a place where only the wealthy can prosper.
The beauty of net neutrality is it is a platform for anyone to make their fortunate, all you have to do is pay for the domain space.
If abolished, startups and new companies will feel the effects of these high priced digital rent spaces. Imagine being an independent skate store in the heart of Soho but you have to shut up shop because the rent for the building is too high, that’s what could happen if net neutrality is taken away.
It’s a catalyst as to why so many independent brands and media outlets have resorted to the internet because their is no ‘tax’ or ‘rent’ with savings passed to customers while still maintaining quality service in terms of speed and connectivity.
Currently net neutrality laws are protected by FCC laws, which fall under a telecommunications laws dating back to 1932, dubbed Title 2.
While there is no actual fear in the prohibition or downgrading in connectivity, the real worry is of overpriced broadband bills. ISPs no longer kept in-line by the FCC can charge their customers whatever they feel is appropriate and with no government guidelines holding them back.
This could mean users would get charged access for certain sites, they could even demand fees from websites themselves. As mentioned before, big tech-companies and businesses can afford the toll but what would happen to the little guys who are on the come up?
For users in the UK net neutrality is protected under British law, thanks to the European Union’s regulation on Open Internet Access principles. Even then Britain operated under a voluntary system before EU law was put into place.
Speaking to Sky News, Till Sommer, from the UK’s Internet Service Providers Association, said:
The US is currently engaged in an important debate around net neutrality, one that is much more intense than over here in the UK…
…we have strong standards backed up by regulations and we have a highly competitive broadband market that allows consumers to switch and choose the provider that best meets their needs.
For now we don’t need to worry about net neutrality, but as we begin to make preparations to leave the EU our Open Internet Access rights will no longer be protected under EU law.
So it begs the question: If, in order to sustain our own economy, could we see the end of net neutrality in the United Kingdom? If the US abolishes their net neutrality laws and it begins to work in their favour, could we soon follow suit?